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8 animated DC films you need to watch now

DC may have yet to master making live-action films, but it sure knows how to do animation. The House of Batman and Superman has one-upped Marvel by making numerous animated movies over the years, many of which don’t get the recognition they deserve.

To put that into perspective, DC has built not one but two cinematic universes following various characters in the past decade. DC fans looking for something better might want to check out these eight animated movies.

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020)

The ruined Watchtower in a river in "Justice League Dark: Apokolips War."
DC

After the Justice League launches a failed attack on Apokolips, John Constantine and a de-powered Superman must lead Earth’s surviving heroes and villains in a final battle against Darkseid to save the Earth. Fans of DC’s Snyderverse will enjoy Apokolips War, as it features many plot elements that would’ve been used in the two canceled sequels to Justice League.

With a post-apocalyptic Earth, a superhero massacre, a brainwashed Batman, and monstrous “Paradooms,” this film holds nothing back in presenting the bleak and bloody finale to the League’s war with Darkseid.

Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

The shadowy silhouette of Bruce Wayne donning the Batman mantle.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Though many people call The Dark Knight Batman’s best movie, some lists have ranked this film as the Caped Crusader’s greatest. Set in the same universe as Batman: The Animated Series, Mask of the Phantasm shows Bruce confronting his past when his former lover, Andrea Beaumont, appears alongside another masked vigilante, the Phantasm.

And as Batman tries to prove his innocence of Phantasm’s crimes, the film depicts the hero’s tragic origins in a unique way by showing how the world and Bruce himself have denied him the chance to live a happy, healthy life.

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Batman standing with Gotham and the Red Hood looming overhead.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This spectacular film shows Batman confronting his greatest failure in the form of his protégé, Jason Todd, who returns as a violent vigilante after presumably dying at the Joker’s hands. As the Red Hood, Todd battles Batman in a clash of ideals that raises questions about the Dark Knight’s moral code.

Whether or not his approach to crime-fighting is the best, this film does a terrific job of analyzing why Batman won’t break his one rule, not even for Jason nor the Joker.

Batman: The Long Halloween Parts 1 and 2 (2021)

Batman and Harvey Dent in "Batman: The Long Halloween - Part 1."
DC

Fans of The Dark Knight and Matt Reeves’s The Batman should enjoy this two-part adventure. Adapting the storyline of the same name, The Long Halloween shows the World’s Greatest Detective team up with Catwoman and Harvey Dent to stop a serial killer named “Holiday” from murdering members of the Falcone crime family, culminating with Harvey’s transformation into the villain “Two-Face.”

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)

The Flash in promo art for the Flashpoint Paradox.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

For those disappointed by Andy Muschietti’s The Flash, this film presents a more faithful adaptation of the iconic “Flashpoint” comic. After going back in time to prevent his mother’s murder, the Scarlet Speedster ends up de-powered in an alternate timeline in which Thomas Wayne is Batman, Martha Wayne is the Joker, and Wonder Woman and Aquaman have started World War III.

The Flashpoint Paradox makes full use of its source material to present a dark, time-traveling epic that forces the Flash to face the full weight of his tampering with fate, along with his greatest enemy, Professor Zoom.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Batman standing atop a building with the cityscape and Joker looming overhead.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Set in the futuristic Neo-Gotham, Bruce Wayne’s latest protégé, Terry McGinnis, faces off against the Dark Knight’s greatest enemy after inexplicably returning from the dead.

This Annie Award-winning film is an especially dark chapter in DC’s Animated Universe, depicting how the Joker brainwashed Tim Drake into fighting Batman, leaving deep scars in the minds of both the Dark Knight and his young ward. However, audiences should watch the uncut version of this film if they want to feel the full force of this haunting thriller.

The Death of Superman (2018)

Superman's cape hung as a flag in "The Death of Superman."
DC

In his continuing war against the Justice League, Darkseid sends his new bioweapon, Doomsday, to wreak havoc on Earth, pitting him in an epic battle against Superman.

While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice may have mashed Doomsday into its third act, The Death of Superman puts a greater emphasis on the Man of Steel, his personal struggles, and his climactic showdown against the alien monster, making for a more faithful and focused adaptation of the infamous comic storyline.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 and 2 (2012 and 2013)

Batman jumping through the night sky with a lightning bolt next to him in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns."
DC / DC Comics

A decade after retiring as Batman, a middle-aged Bruce Wayne returns to crime-fighting in a Gotham overrun with crime, leading to battles against Two-Face, the Joker, and even Superman. Every shot of this film looks like it was taken straight from the panels of Frank Miller’s classic comic.

And as it stays loyal to the beloved source material, The Dark Knight Returns stretches out into two films to showcase the aged Batman’s epic war against Gotham’s criminals and a struggling government humiliated by his actions.

All of these movies are available to stream on Max.

Anthony Orlando
Anthony Orlando is a writer/director from Oradell, NJ. He spent four years at Lafayette College, graduating CUM LAUDE with a…
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